I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution on this bill. It seems like in some ways it has been a very long time coming because women’s issues have been on the agenda for so long. I think back to the suffragettes and all those people in the last century and the century before who in some cases gave up their lives to fight for the right to vote and the right to own property—the right to do so much. In my lifetime, I remember in the early 1970s joining the Women’s Electoral Lobby and being involved in women’s lib and all these things. And then things go quiet a bit, and now we are in a stage where people are seeing the need to entrench this sort of legislation in the law so that it creates a framework that we can go forward with. I think that is really what this bill does. It is an impetus to everyone to think more about gender issues, about equality, and that is really the reason I support the bill.
It enshrines in legislation that ‘defined entities’, being the public sector, councils and universities, take positive action towards achieving gender equality, and it requires them to promote gender equality in their policies, their programs and their services. The bill also establishes the public sector gender equality commissioner. I agree with the member for Geelong that that is an important issue. Somebody needs to be overlooking what is going on, providing the sorts of information and frameworks that organisations will need to comply with through the legislation.
On other aspects of the bill, it requires all of those organisations I just mentioned to undertake gender impact assessments. They need to address workplace gender inequality by preparing gender equality action plans every four years, with a requirement for organisations subject to the bill to report every two years and to make reasonable and material progress in the workplace. They are required to report on the progress of the actions that they identify in those impact assessment statements.
Sometimes these things might seem like it is all over-regulation and all too hard and difficult to manage, but I think we only need to look back over a range of legislation that has come in over many years, whether it be the Victorian WorkCover Authority, WorkSafe Victoria—people used to die on worksites on a regular basis. We addressed that. We have road rules to address the issues around road safety. We have organisations that monitor and deal with that and do a lot of educational work to bring people along with the sort of legislation that gets passed, and I really see this is just an extension of that. The bill will allow the Governor in Council to make regulations for or with respect to any manner or thing associated with the bill.
Then we come to prescribed entities, which really can take it, I believe, outside the scope of those organisations that I named before. Organisations with 50 employees or more can come within the scope of the bill. I assume that those smaller organisations have been left out because of the regulatory workload that might impose for some businesses and in rural and regional areas, but I would hope that the general tenor of it throughout all organisations is adopted. Certainly I know, as a lawyer in private practice who had two children during that time and had bassinets under desks while I was seeing clients and doing all sorts of things, you can manage all sorts of things, and I certainly employed quite a few women over my years in practice during those times. You can have flexibility; you can have flexible working hours; you can work at night instead of during the day if you need to. So there are many ways of achieving it, and it is really just about having the flexibility. But in this case the legislation is actually creating an onus, and I think that is a good thing because so many people will always try and slide away from these sorts of issues.
I support the bill and what it stands for. Women comprise two-thirds of Victoria’s public sector and apparently have an 11 per cent pay gap—same work, same job—and that seems to me to be quite extraordinary in this day and age. So I am proud to be a woman in this political field here in the Victorian Parliament. I notice that the Parliamentary Elections (Women Candidates) Act 1923 received royal assent in 1924, and that act saw Lady Millie Peacock become the first female member of the Victorian Parliament. When you look around the Victorian Parliament now, it is really amazing to see the difference. Just seeing the member for Lowan before, very pregnant, talking about her experience, about the fact that she will be having a baby here in Parliament—you know, coming with her at times—and that she now feels that that is something she is supported to do; that is a terrific thing. We have seen many other women, even just in the five years I have been here, pregnant and bringing babies along with them and managing this really important role of representing our communities.
I cannot help but reflect on rural issues when I think about this bill. I was just recently at the International Dairy Week in Tatura and spoke to a group of women in the evening. In my lifetime farmers wives were called farmers wives, when really all they were were farmers. That has really changed. I think it is just a great thing that farmers are now farmers, whether they are men or women. It is that social change that comes along. If someone now says, ‘Well, she’s a farmer’s wife’, we glare at them; everyone would glare at them, because that is simply not acceptable. They are out there doing everything that the men do and have a really significant role in the management of farms. It is a really significant reflection, and just walking around in that huge arena with all these magnificent cows were so many women leading the cows, grooming the cows and taking a really active part in that whole dairying industry. It is very much an industry where women take a very significant role. To all the women who have gone before us, in so many fields, I think we really have a debt of gratitude to them, because they have made every step of the way that bit easier for us, and here we are now passing legislation that really recognises a lot of the hard work that has previously been done.
The bill seeks to remove the systemic causes of gender inequality in policies, programs and services in our workplaces, and I think without some form of target, then that notion of gender equality becomes quite hard to really take up, keep at front of mind and pursue. I recall being on other boards when we had to talk about carbon emissions. You had to actually have evidence that you were doing something to achieve a certain amount of carbon emissions reduction at one time in history. A lot of these things come and go, but that was no less a burden. This is even more significant, in that it is about relations between the genders, and it is about women having an opportunity to go forward.
The bill, I think, sort of proceeds in some ways a lot of the work that has been done. When I think about the district of Shepparton I can refer to steps that have already been taken. In 2018 the Greater Shepparton City Council developed the Gender Equity Strategy and Action Plan 2018–2020, really as an internal document and a tool to sort of encourage workplace equality and foster cultural change. Moira shire, in my electorate, appointed an officer specifically for that task. The Greater Shepparton Family Violence Prevention Network, as part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, held an event that really promoted the notion of gender equality and being able to talk about it openly. The Greater Shepparton Women’s Charter Advisory Committee is a really active organisation that tries to promote more women going into leadership roles, into local government and also into workplaces, community groups and local boards of management. There are many organisations in our region, I am pleased to say, because I think often in rural areas people think we are behind the times. But there is actually a lot going on out there, and we are right up with it and working hard towards those things.